Hull Centre aids children with mental health issues

The George Hull Centre in Etobicoke offers mental health services to children in need. (Photo Malcolm Campbell) The George Hull Centre in Etobicoke offers mental health services to children in need. (Photo Malcolm Campbell)

Malcolm Campbell
News Reporter

The George Hull Centre strives to help families and children in their time of greatest need.

It provides a range of services aimed at educating families and children about preventing, and coping with mental illness.

More than 4,500 children between infants and 18 years are treated through one of the many programs the South Etobicoke centre on The East Mall offers each year.

Jane Bray, executive director, emphasized the benefits of being able to see clients throughout their infancy, youth, and adolescence.

“Many centres focus on one age group, so the kids have to transfer to new programs,” she said. “It can be a tough transition.”

The centre has a multidisciplinary treatment staff specializing in a diverse scope of services. These are offered at several George Hull facilities, as well as in community centres and schools throughout Etobicoke.

The George Hull Centre is also making mental health treatment more accessible by sending workers out into the community. Bray says the preventative services offered through the centre are essential to stopping mental heath problems before they become untenable.

“If a child is having trouble speaking or communicating, they’re more at risk for mental health problems,” said Bray.  “Like an intervention, it helps with the problem, and if you fix it, you prevent further problems.”

Angie Portner, a social worker on the treatment staff, works in the residential program. It is designed for adolescents dealing with the most deep-rooted issues of emotional, physical and psychological trauma.

In some cases, the pain has driven them to substance abuse and suicidal thoughts, Portner says. The residential program is highly structured with educational components to allow clients to catch up on missed credits.

There are also trips to show the kids there is a life outside of the city, and a world of possibilities.

Even though clients are living away from their families, Portner stressed the importance of trying to reconcile past differences.

“These are situations that affect the whole family, and we want to help,” she said. “We just can’t do that work without the parents.”

However, the centre is becoming backlogged due to volume. Staff have taken measures to ensure that those in greatest need are seen first, a triage of sorts, but for some the wait can be as long as six months.

According to Ontario Ministry of Finance Public Accounts records, the child and youth mental health section of the budget for the Ministry of Children and Youth Services saw a drop of  $80 million between between 2012 and 2014, reversing the seven years of steady increases in funding to the youth mental health programs The Ministry of Children and Youth Services runs. This drop in funding may have contributed to the backlog in an already overcrowded system.

Liz Sokol, a counsellor at Humber, said that funding shortages, along with the bureaucratic gridlock many organizations experience, both contribute to backlogged appointments.

“It varies from service to service,” Sokol said. “But cuts leading to undermanned staffs obviously create longer wait times.”

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